2011 LEXUS IS F REVIEW
Vehicle Style: High performance sedan
Fuel Economy (claimed): 11.4 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 12.9 l/100km
From day one we’ve liked the Lexus stormer, its IS F, even with its fidgety rear end. And while a mid-cycle update brought a proper mechanical LSD to aid traction last year, Lexus left most of the rest alone.
Now, for 2011, Lexus has fettled the IS F’s rear suspension hardware to improve roadholding, and added some aesthetic enhancements inside and out.
It’s still the same torque-heavy, tail-happy package as before, but the mechanical upgrades have improved the IS F’s performance and comfort markedly.
Quality: The interior design is starting to date, but the fastidious build and high-quality materials are typical Lexus.
The doors close with a solid thunk, hinged console lids are smoothly damped and the leather-upholstered steering wheel, gear-lever and seats are very appealing to the touch.
Some of the switchgear is borrowed from Toyota’s extensive parts bin, but it's high quality hardware regardless.
A black headliner adds a sporty ambience to the IS F’s cockpit, but the aluminium mesh trim (tinted slightly darker for MY2011) is an acquired taste.
Comfort: The thickly-bolstered front seats offer exceptional comfort and support, although leg and head room isn’t exactly generous.
Rear seat accommodation is fine for two adults (the centre seat is deleted on the IS F, making it a four seater), but leg and knee room is in very short supply. Head room isn’t too bad, but taller passengers will find it rather claustrophobic back there.
The instrument cluster is all-new for 2011, and features a large tachometer as its centrepiece.
Unfortunately, the speedometer is now so small that keeping an eye on your speed is a difficult task. The digital repeater display for the speedo helps a little, but its refresh rate is too slow to make it a precision instrument.
Equipment: The IS F’s standard equipment list is extensive, and includes a 14-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system, 6-stacker CD player, USB and auxiliary inputs, a touch screen navigation system, active cruise control, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing xenon headlamps, electrically adjustable and heated front seats, parking sensors, a reversing camera, glass sunroof and 19-inch alloy wheels.
A sunroof delete package is the only factory option.
Storage: Storage capacity in the boot is listed as 378 litres, 20 litres less than the regular IS sedan. Rear seats are fixed (they don’t fold down), however there is a ski port behind the central armrest.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Plentiful low-down torque, a fat mid-range and a 7000rpm redline endow the IS F with enormous flexibility. Lug it around town at low revs, overtake in high gears or hit the limiter on a racetrack - it will do all of these things with no complaint.
Power from the Yamaha-tuned 5.0 litre V8 tops out at 311kW at 6600rpm, while peak torque of 505Nm is delivered at 5200rpm. Other V8s produce more low-down oomph, but the way the IS F’s V8 builds revs more than compensates.
Throttle response on the highway is instant - it is an incredibly quick car with a spine-tingling surge of power.
Helping its flexibility is the eight-speed automatic gearbox. The top two ratios are highway-friendly overdrive gears that help rein in fuel consumption, and are seldom used around town.
The other six give a good spread of ratios, but with such a wide torque band it’s debatable whether the IS F really needs so many gears.
You can flip through all eight gears manually via the tiptronic gate or the wheel-mounted paddle shifters; the speed of manual shifts is about as quick as some twin-clutch transmissions.
For a conventional hydraulic automatic, the IS F’s gearbox is a deeply impressive piece of hardware.
Refinement: The 5.0 litre V8 can be vocal when it needs to be, but during a light cruise the exhaust note is mellow and not at all overbearing.
The low-profile tyres transmit a lot of road noise though, but aside from that the IS F’s cabin is a quiet one.
Suspension: The MY2011 IS F’s suspension revisions are comprehensive, and encompass everything from bushing stiffness to damper valving, camber angle and spring rates.
The result is a suspension that’s more supple around town, and more predictable at speed.
Flexing the right foot mid-corner (with VDIM off) will still induce a slide, but the breakaway is more progressive and easier to manage. Lay off the accelerator while cornering, and the IS F grips like a cat on carpet.
Braking: The IS F’s big 360mm front rotors and 345mm rear rotors never failed us, despite repeated stops from high speed. Pedal feel is strong and reassuring, and we couldn’t induce even a hint of fade.
ANCAP rating: 5 stars
Safety features: the IS F features eight airbags, including front-seat knee airbags, dual-stage front airbags, driver and front-passenger side airbags and full-length curtain airbags.
Lexus' VDIM system includes stability control (VSC), traction control (TRC), hill-start assist (HAC), and ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Four years/100,000km.
Service costs: Service costs vary, consult your local Lexus dealer before purchase.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
BMW M3 Sedan ($141,700) - A high-revving 309kW 4.0 litre V8 and a razor-sharp RWD chassis is the recipe that makes the M3 sedan one of the best performers in this segment.
It may be outgunned by the torquier IS F (400Nm against 505Nm), but the M3 is the sharper handler. It’s also available with a proper manual transmission - another plus for driving enthusiasts.
Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG sedan ($152,800) - Expensive, yes, but it’s actually the cheapest way to get access to AMG’s wondrous 6.2 litre V8.
Peak power of 336kW and 600Nm of torque puts the C63 at the top of its class, and it’s hard to beat for straight-line speed.
Jaguar XF 5.0 V8 ($128,900) - The XF’s 5.0 litre V8 produces less power but more torque than the IS F, making it a more relaxed performer.
It’s not quite as athletic as the IS F is on a twisty road, but its interior is a good deal more accommodating.
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The IS F is approaching the end of its lifespan, but this update breathes new life into what is undeniably the most value-packed luxury performance sedan in the $100k-plus premium segment.
Improvements in ride quality make it easier to live with in day-to-day driving, while the new suspension tune makes it easier to hustle around a racetrack.
The instrument cluster’s tiny speedo is the only blot on the IS F’s ledger, but that’s more than balanced by the rest of the package.